Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cinnamon juice

Here's a nice drink to have on hand in the fridge. It tastes great (less filling!), with the added bonus that cinnamon is supposed to be good for you. I discovered it a few years ago when I got sent to Seoul for a work trip (I know, poor me!). They served this after the meal at the restaurant where our hosts took us. It took me some time to come across a recipe for this hauntingly soothing beverage. This version comes close! It has so few ingredients and is so easy that it's barely a recipe, but that just makes it that much better!
Basically, you simmer 4 cinnamon sticks in 4 cups of water for half an hour. Then you turn off the stove and stir in 1/4 cup of sweetner (brown sugar is good, maple syrup is great too). That's it. I also like to add some ginger to the simmering cinnamon, and put in a few fresh slices. This gives the drink a little heat and some extra zing.

Once it has finished cooling down, you just strain it into a container, add a bit more water if you want, and tuck it in the fridge for whenever you're in the mood. I recommend straining, since cinnamon will lose some barky bits as it unravels in the heat, and it's nice to keep these out of your drinking glasses.

Cinnamon sticks are made from the inner bark of trees of the genus Cinnamomum. The common one we get in North America is C. burmannii, also called Indonesian cassia -- apparently, this isn't the real McCoy (who knew?). "True" cinnamon actually comes from C. verum plants, and it has a cooler taste than the spicier stuff we usually get. It is really nice though (I used it for this recipe). Both types work just fine.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chicken stock

You've probably been wondering what to do with all those chicken carcasses from the chicken in a pot recipe. Or maybe you've been wondering where I get all that chicken stock I keep dumping into beef bourguignon, or fish soup, or Belgian beef stew. Well wonder no more! Here's how to make chicken stock. (If you're vegan or something, and weren't wondering, then you may want to skip this one.)

There are a lot of chicken stock recipes out there. Some call for roasting the bird remains first. Some want you to use a whole bird that hasn't even been cooked yet. Some ask for a mirepoix, others don't. For me, it's about simplicity and using the last of a roast chicken to create a VERY important and useful ingredient that, if you buy it in a store, is invariably awful. So, why not go for a little thrifty/gourmet combo here and save your next pile of chicken bones for something great? (This recipe calls for the left overs from a roast chicken, but you can save the bones from bbq'd legs, a mess o' wings, or whatever recipe you've done. If you only have a few, freeze them until you have a critical mass and then get cooking!)

The first step is to put your pile of bones in a big stock pot and fill it with water. And that's pretty much it. You can add whatever you want now (with the exception of the cabbage family) to create your stock. Classic additions are a couple stalks of celery, a roughly chopped carrot or two, a quartered onion (no need to peel, but trim the dirty root off and make sure it doesn't have that gross black mould under the first couple of layers), and a few cloves of garlic (whole). On the herbs and spices side, you can toss a bay leaf or two in there, some sprigs of thyme, and or some peppercorns. Once you have all your stuff in the pot, bring it almost to a boil, then turn it down to a slow simmer for about two hours -- you want it to be rolling around gently in the pot, but not boiling. (This is a good recipe to have blupping away on the stove while you read, or clean house, or, well, do whatever as long as it allows you to pop into the kitchen every now and then to give it a stir and to make sure the stove isn't too hot.)

Now, about salt. You can put a bunch in if you like, but I prefer to make a minimally salted stock. This gives me the flexibility to salt my other recipes when and as I please without worrying how much salt is in my stock. I find you do need some though -- it helps you when you taste the stock to see how it's coming along (not that you really need to, but tasting is fun!). The salt helps you pick up the other flavours. So, I go for about a teaspoon (actually, a little pile that sits nicely in the palm of my hand), but feel free to use your own judgement and taste.

After a couple of hours you're stock will have boiled down a little.

The next step is to strain it (you don't want any debris in the finished product). It's smart to do this in the sink (unless you like cleaning up the inevitable splatters and spills).

Then you just need to get it in some containers. I'm not a big fan of plastic (did I mention this already?) so I use these glass things I got from Canadian Tire (they go on for half price all the time, so I stock up then -- I know I have to make more chicken stock when the cupboards start filling up with them). I use two cup containters, since that is a pretty typical quantity of stock for most recipes. I transfer the strained stock to the containters using a measuring cup (not to measure, but because it pours pretty well).

Then I let them sit on the counter for a little while until they are cool enough (i.e. not hot) to cover and to go into the fridge. (This has a side benefit of requiring me to drink several beers, since there usually isn't enough space in the fridge and, "sadly" the beers are the only thing that can be consumed quickly.) You can stack the containers two or three high to save some space.

Some recipes tell you to degrease the stock while it's warm, but this is craziness to me. In most cases it is a good idea to get some of the fat out of there because a greasy stock can make a mess of your recipe. (You may have noticed that this is not a "cooking lite" site, but greasy stock can blow an otherwise great recipe so take heed!) The trick here is to wait until your stock has spent a night in the fridge. The next day, any fat will have formed a solid layer on top of the stock -- more if you had a fatty chicken, less to none if your bones were lean. If you are going to use the stock within a couple of days and plan to keep it in the fridge, then wait until just before cooking before you lift off and discard most (never all -- it is great stuff!) of the fat. The fat layer is like a little lid on the stock and keeps it from being exposed to air. If you plan to freeze the stock, then you should remove most (not all -- again!) of it before you put the containers in the freezer (this is because you don't want to have to worry about it at thawing time, and it is so easy to do right now).

To use the frozen stock, just take it out of the freezer about 20 minutes before you need it. Give the container about 5 minutes in a warm water bath to thaw the ice block of stock at the edges. Then open your container and transfer the stock to a sauce pan (it will still be an ice cube). Heat it up for 10 or 15 minutes until it is warm and melted, and then add it to your recipe!

Enjoy! There is something comforting about a freezer full of chicken stock!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Flamm postscript: It's ok, Ray!

Well first off, let me say I got an outstanding surprise in the mail today. A friend from public school (let the record show the awesome person in question in one Corey Stewart), recently posted on facebook that he'd bought a bunch of bottles of St. Ambroise Russian Imperial Stout -- a limited release of 9,600 bottles. Naturally, being the kind of guy I am, I set out to set my hands on some of these babies. To my dismay (utter and total dismay, since we are supposed to have "flagship" LCBO stores in Ottawa) there were none to be found in Ottawa, nor in the SAQ across the border. (If you happen to be interested in a wonderful discription of the sometimes baffling history of booze and government control thereof, I heartily recommend Cheers: An intemperate history of beer in Canada by William Pashley -- it will make you laugh, cry, and (most importantly) want to drink more beer.)

ANYWAY, to my complete and joyous surprise, a bottle of this wondrous concotion showed up in the mail today. Out of the blue. From someone I haven't seen in 30 years!! Let it be noted here that the world needs more people like this. Random acts of supreme kindness make the world a better place. Three cheers for Corey and all those like him!

That beer disappeared pretty quickly in a few moments of total peace on my front porch. The next one, above, accompanied me through my flamm redux.

Now, as you may recall, I intemperately (I like this word -- cf. William Pashley, above) questioned the wisdom of the Cooks Illustrated gang in my last post by bailing on the parchment paper under the flamm recommendation. I knew this was a questionable decision, given the gazillion hours of testing that go into each one of their recipes, but when you have three days of recipe and 10 or 20 bucks worth of ingredients on the line, well, sometimes you hesitate. But, I still had a niggling curiosity, and when you have a curiosity like this you just have to do something about it. So...I did a flamm with parchment. It worked. Cooks Illustrated, you are forever rendered unquestionable in my mind. Here's the scoop:

A quick read of the parchment paper box reveals that they recommend that you wet it before chucking it in the oven. I didn't want to wet the flamm side, but the otherside was no problem. I also found that rolling out a dough on parchment is slippery business, so... I wet the counter top, then put the parchment on there (to help it stick a little), then added my sticky flamm dough, floured lightly, and rolled it out. To make things a little less flammable (hahaha), I trimmed the parchment so that there was not too much overhang. I transferred it to my trusty peel and then I dressed the dough with creme fraiche, onions, meat (inexplicably, I ran out of bacon, so went for some artisinal dry sausage -- a FINE substitution), and cheese.

Parchment on a peel is super slippery, which takes a great deal of the stress out of this recipe. It is much easier to get the paper/pie combination on the pizza stone than it is to get the pie on there solo. Once on the stone, I let it cook for 7 minutes and... fire! No carbonised bottom!! No inferno!!! I guess the paper can't get hot enough to ignite while the dough still has moisture in it, so the 451 F threshold never gets hit. Just slide your flamm off the peel and onto a cutting board, slip the parchment out, and you're off to the races!

Here's what the parchement looks like post-bake. Barely singed on the edges.

Happy eating!

Inspiration: An awesome surprise in the mail!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Flammekueche!! Or Flamm, if you prefer!

One of the many highlights of my recent March Break in Montreal was that I convinced the gang to eat at 3 Brasseurs no less the three times -- in three different locations! So there are 9 brasseurs implicated in this tale, and I am thankful to them all.

My favourite thing at 3 Brasseurs (next to the awesome beer -- which, sadly, can't leave the premises unless it's in your body ... actually, that's not SO bad) is the Flamm. A flamm (or flammekueche if you prefer the long name, which no one does) is basically a variation of the pizza from the Alsace region of France (although I am sure some Belgians must have been involved in its creation, since it is simply too perfect with Belgian beer for this not to be the case).

ANYWAY, this little vacation inspired me to dig out my flamm recipe and give it a whirl. Kind thanks to The Best International Recipe from Cooks Illustrated for the basic plan of attack. 

The ingredients are a thin crust pizza dough, creme fraiche, some fine cheese, onions, and bacon. (Seriously, onions and bacon -- how could this be any more awesome?!)

However, like one of those movies that start with some kind of present day teaser and then throw you into the backstory, our recipe began two days ago...

Two days before you plan to Flamm:

A real flamm is made with creme fraiche (basically, it takes the place of tomato sauce in a pizza). Creme fraiche is not something I've seen commercially (although, admittedly, I haven't looked -- I am not a big fan of plastic, and most dairy stuff comes in plastic tubs). But, never fear, you can make it! In only two days!!

To make creme fraiche, you need some buttermilk and some whipping cream. All you have to do is mix 1/4 cup of buttemilk into 1 cup of whipping cream, then...

heat it up to about 85 degrees F, transfer it to a bowl, cover it, and let it sit on your kitchen counter for 24 hours. 85 degress is luke warm, and it takes about 7-8 minutes on medium heat to get warm enough. I've seen recipes that don't call for heating, but my kitchen is always too cold for these to work. You want to give the buttermilk bacteria a chance to colonise the cream and start chugging along. The next day you can pop it in the fridge until you need it or leave it on the counter a while longer if it hasn't thickend up enough (it should be like youghurt when it's done). If you pop it open and it smells like ammonia -- too late, start all over again.

This may sound like a food safety nightmare, but it has worked for me so far. This recipe is from Joy of Cooking.  If you're leery of the whole procedure (or think it's a crazy waste of time) then you could just use sour cream instead, or cottage cheese (but it may be too bland), but come on! Give it a go! It's fun, and worth it!

One day before you plan to Flamm:

This "pie" is cooked on a thin pizza dough -- we're talking cracker here. This is a bit of a challenge to pull off, but if you give a dough a 24 hour stint in the fridge, it builds up a massive amount of gluten (sorry Alison!) and can become a thin and wonderful thing.

To make the dough, you need 2 cups of flour, 1/2 tsp yeast, 1/2 tsp honey, 1/2 tsp salt, 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp water (don't blame me, this measure is in the book), and 1/4 cup of vegetable oil.

The Cooks Illustrated team go on to describe a food processor method that looks like it is finished before you even start. I am a bit of a Luddite, however, and prefer the wooden spoon and bowl technique. For the Luddite version...

proof your yeast. I do this any time I make dough just to make sure my yeast is still alive. Take your water (it should be lukewarm), add the honey, add the yeast and stir. Wait about 5 mins, and you should see the yeast start to dance, and it will smell all boozy. Once this happens, you're good to go. If it doesn't make sure your water is warm enough -- if it is, go buy new yeast.

Mix the dry ingredients, but use only half the flour.

Add the yeasty water and oil and start stirring with your trusty wooden spoon. You'll get a gloopy mess.

Gradually add the last half of the flour. It will become really hard to stir towards the end, but soilder on -- it's good for your pipes! You'll end up with a nice ball at the end. Knead the dough a bit in the bowl if stirring becomes impossible. Just grab an edge of the ball, pull it to the centre, press down, and keep working your way around the ball and the bowl until you feel like you're done and all the flour has disappeared.

Turn the dough out onto a nice floured surface...

and knead it a couple of more times until you have a nice, not too sticky ball.

Then pour a little olive oil on top and spread it around to coat the ball. Finally, pop it in a bowl, cover it, and put it in the fridge until the next day. (Cooks Illustrated says to put it in plastic wrap, but you already know how I feel about plastic. Just make sure your bowl is big enough -- this puppy will double or triple in size over night. This is also a warning to keep your yeast measurement as indicated -- if you're tempted to add more yeast you are sure to have a massive ball of dough take over your whole fridge -- like the chicken heart in that Fat Albert episode. You have been warned!)

On  the day you plan to Flamm!

First bit of advice: do not get a massive head cold. It will diminish your enthusiasm and make you hesitate to have lots of beer. But, as I've said before, soilder on! (The dough will take over your fridge if you don't!)

To make the flamm, you need your dough, your creme fraiche, bacon, onions, and cheese (I went for compte, which is pretty dear, but also pretty awesome -- you could go for any gruyere, cheddar, whatever, just don't use mozza because you want some flavour here.) Cooks doesn't call for cheese, but 3 Brasseurs uses it and I wanted it, so there.

Technically you should use a slab of bacon and cut it into lardons, but I was all out, so I just used some thickly sliced bacon insted. Chop it into good sized chunks and fry it up over medium heat until crispy.

Your onions need to be sliced thinly. I cut them in half from stem to root, then peel away the skin, lay them on their sides and slice away. The recipe calls for 4 medium onions, but the two big ones I had were plenty.

They need to be carmelised for this recipe. To do this, just put them in a pan with some bacon fat (or oil if you don't have any kicking around) over medium heat.

Then cover and let them sweat for about 10 minutes.

After that, take the lid off and gently stir them every now and then until they are your preferred level of browness (or until you are too hungry to wait any longer).

While you're doing all this bacon and onion stuff, you should be heating your oven and pizza stone (it's late in the game to say this, but you need a pizza stone). Mine has, shall we say, a certain patina, but that is because during the summer I use it outside on the grill over charcoal, and it sits inside the oven permanently during the winter, so it has had the chance to develop some character. The oven has to be hot -- like 500 degrees hot.

Next step is to prepare your creme fraiche. Just take a cup of it, add some salt and pepper and a grating of nutmeg, and stir.

Then comes the dough part. This recipe makes two flamms, so start with half the dough and gently pat it down on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper. The Cooks Illustrated recipe calls for rolling the dough on the parchment while covered with plastic wrap, and then sliding the flamm (parchment and all, without the plastic wrap) onto your pizza stone. I really hesitated here. After all, Ray Bradbury told us that paper burns at 451 F, and my oven is at 500 F. I was sure I would end up with some blackend carbon coating on my flamm if I tried this. In the end, I rolled the dough out on parchement with my trusty and cool rolling pin that came all the way from Nova Scotia. The dough should be very thin -- if it's about pizza stone size, you're all set!

I then bailed on the whole parchment plan, and transferred the dough to my floured pizza peel and started assembling.

A word to the wise. The peel to stone step is not for the faint of heart. It's one of those no guts, no glory moments. Either you or the pizza will win. Just make sure it's you. One way to increase your chances of success is to give the peel a shake once you add your dough (to make sure there are no sticking points) and to keep the dough close to the edge so it has less wood to travel over. Another key is to work really fast once it hits the peel so it doesn't have time to start sticking. So....!

Coat the dough with creme fraiche.

Add your onions and bacon (mmmm...bacon).

Add the cheese.

And slide it in the oven (use the force if you must: Close your eyes, Luke). After 5-7 minutes it will look like this. You can prepare your second flamm while the first one is cooking (altough you will need a second peel to pull this off) or just wait until the first one is out before you start the second act.

To get it out of the oven, just lift the edge a bit with a spoon or whatever, and slide the peel under (this is another of those moments where you will either win or the flamm will get shoved to the back of the stove and dissapper -- so be resolute!) It will look so wonderful!

Slice and serve with a nice beer using the glass you got from your inspiring trip to Montreal. As I said, the 3 Brasseurs beers can't leave the site, so I made do with some nice Chimay Bleue (this may have been a sad lapse of judgement given my poorly timed cold, but there is no way I was going to have my flamm without an appropriate beer! Plus, I believe in the healing properties of beer -- especially beer made by monks).

Three cheers for the 3 Brasseurs! Huzzah!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Whiskey sour

A colleague of mine introduced me to the whiskey sour, and I've since come to share her opinion that it is the best mixed drink ever.

The basic ingredients are simple enough: ice, 1 part lemon juice, 2 parts whiskey (more on this later), and a little less than 1 part sugar syrup. You also need a cocktail shaker. I like the OXO shaker since it is double walled and you don't freeze your hands off while shaking (the single walled ones get SUPER cold). It took me forever to find one (had to go to SEARS online), but I loooooooove it.

Sugar syrup is simple to make. I go for the Joy of Cooking version which is two cups of sugar mixed with one cup of water and gently heated in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves (I am always amazed that two cups of sugar can disappear into one cup of water, but then, I am easily amazed.) You can flavour the syrup with herbs like mint, or costmary (what on earth is costmary, you ask -- stay tuned!), or thyme, or lavendar, or lemon verbena, or... you get me. Just add the herbs after the sugar has dissolved, and let them steep for a while before straining. I store my sugar syrup in the fridge in an old basalmic vinegar bottle (the one with the horse-head stopper in the photo). This drink was made with costmary flavoured syrup.

Why go to all this hassle you ask? Well, the sugar syrup ensures that the sweetener is evenly distributed in the final drink, rather than remaining undissolved, settling to the bottom, and yielding one of those childhood lemonade moments where you say "I know where all the sugar went" when you get to the bottom of your glass.

You'll note I've spelled whiskey with an "e." That's because I prefer bourbon as the whiskey in this drink. Remarkably, it is easier to find good bourbon in Ottawa than it is to find good Canadian whisky (note, no "e"). Maybe I'm just a crappy shopper (I know I'm a crappy shopper), but decent Canadian Rye just doesn't seem to jump out at me at the LCBO.

ANYWAY, you fill your shaker with ice, add the juice of a lemon (the average lemon clocks in at two ounces of juice, so you need to add 4 ounces of bourbon, which means you can either share or watch out -- your choice), add your whiskey (or whisky if you prefer), and a dollop of sugar syrup (I am never too precise here, and since personal tastes vary you may as well experiment -- officially you need 3/4 oz. of syrup for each oz. of lemon juice, but I find that too sweet), shake like crazy, pour into a nice glass, and ...

...go do something relaxing!

But wait! What is costmary?! Costmary was also called Alecost because, guess what, they used it to flavour ale (back before hops became common, apparently). It was also called bible leaf because people would put a leaf in their bible to make it smell nice and to give them something nice to sniff if the sermon got a little boring (like that could ever happen). I really like the smell (it reminds me of Juicy Fruit gum). It grows like a weed. I think you can order if from Richters, or pop by my house and I'll give you a clump.

How do I know this crap?! Well, waaaaay back in my youth I worked at Bellevue House National Historic Site in Kingston as a period (read c. 1846) gardener, and in the garden we grew...yes...costmary! I've grown it ever since.


Oat pancakes

I came across this recipe on Molly Wizenberg's blog Orangette. Since I'm always on the lookout for something oaty, I couldn't wait to give it a go.

You'll need to start the night before by soaking 1 cup of oats in 1 cup of buttermilk (you really should have buttermilk on hand -- how else can you make good biscuits?!). Leave the buttermilk and oats in the fridge overnight. The next morning, you'll also need 1/4 cup of flour, 1 tbsp of sugar, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 egg, and 1/4 cup of butter. (This is half of the Orangette recipe, and yields 8 pancakes.)

The first step is to melt the butter. While this is going on you can start heating your cast iron implements over medium heat: a skillet for bacon, and a griddle for the pancakes. You could use a couple of pans or even one pan instead of the griddle, but I like it because you can cook all your pancakes at once (if you're making 8 of them) and, because it has no sides, it is much easier to get under the pancakes if they're a little reluctant to let go of the pan for flipping.

Once the butter has been melted and then cooled down, you can start mixing. Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl. Then whisk the egg and butter, and add this to the soaked oats in a larger bowl. Gently mix the oats, butter, and eggs, and then stir in the dry ingredients. Let this sit for a minute while you grease the griddle (and get a pot of coffee on to perk!). I used lard for greasing the griddle (that's just the kind of guy I am), but oil will work -- butter is a bit riskier, since it can burn at proper pancake heat (between medium and 6 on my stove), but it can be done if you monitor the heat carefully. (You really should have lard on hand, though -- how else can you make good biscuits?!)

Plop the batter on the griddle. The recipe calls for 1/4 cup per pancake. The batter is pretty thick, so you might have a challenge measuring 1/4 cup -- I found a heaped wooden spoon gave the right amount.

If you want to add blueberries (and I highly recommned you do -- there is something perfect about oats and blueberries) put them on once the bottoms have start to set. Molly recommends this as a way to avoid purple streaks in the batter, but is also has the advantage of allowing you to put the same amount of berries in each pancake (or to skip some of them if you're cooking for someone who, for some strange reason, doesn't like them), and avoids the burning problem that sometimes comes up if berries hit the pan right at the start of the cooking time.

Flip 'em when they seem to be set on the edges (these don't bubble like regular pancakes, so they're a little trickier to read).

Cook the second side, and then serve up with some butter, maple syrup, a side order of bacon, and a nice hot perked coffee! These are wonderful; crispy on the outside, and like soft moist cake in the centre. What are you waiting for?
p.s. I won't sugar coat it. The kitchen will be a disaster of pancake crumbs, dirty bowls, and bacon grease splatters, but you won't care -- you just ate the best pancakes ever!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

In the garden again: somebody call Al Gore!

Recognise this?

Yes, it's Bay ... as in Bay Leaves Bay, and it survived the winter in my garden. I know we had an easy winter, but it wasn't Italy easy! I'll take it though, and I'm happy to see this one greeting a new year (I brought two others in for the winter and had no space for this poor cat.)

I haven't done a lot of cooking lately -- I was in Montreal for the March school break (the trip did inspire some recipes, so stay tuned!) and I spent today and yesterday in the garden (thank heavens for leftover beef bourguignon!).

Yesterday I planed fava beans and today potatoes.

To plant favas, you shovel out a shallow rectangle with a spade, arrange a couple nice rows of seeds...

...and then fill it in again.

Then gently tamp it all down with your rake. This helps keep seeds from washing out in the rain (more important with smaller seeds) and ensures good contact between the soil and the seeds. It also helps conserve moisture, and the more densely packed earth dries slower than the loose stuff.

If you're a thrifty sort (or short on space) you can grow radishes in the same space.

Just use the other end of your rake to make a couple of shallow drills.

Put your seeds in.

Mark your rows with some sticks,

then use the other, other end of the rake to cover the seeds.

And then tamp the earth down (again with the rake -- is this a useful tool or what?!) You can use the same method for most seeds (I planted kale and Swiss Chard the same way today). Just make shallow drills for small seeds, and deeper drills for larger ones. You can plant carrots at this time of year too -- a good trick is to put radishes in the same row as the carrots. The radishes sprout early and break the soil surface, helping the carrots come out (and giving you a clue where the rows are, since carrots take forever). The radishes will be harvested while the carrots are still young, clearing the way for the second crop. Genius!

It's a good idea to cover the planted area with a pile of sticks -- this discourages birds from landing there and gives the squirrles a hard time when they come to see what you were doing and dig up all your seeds.

For the potatoes, I pulled a some out of the bottom of the fridge (the kind on the right -- been there since October!) and a few from the storage room in the basement (the two kinds on the left). They had all started sprouting so I figured I might as well grow them out rather than chuck 'em. (Plus they're mod squad boutique spuds from the organic farmers' market and cost a zillion dollars, so why not save some sheckles and go for home grown?)

To plant them I dug some holes (with, guess what, the side of my rake).

Then laid the spuds in so that the sprouts were pointed up and would only be covered by an inch or so of dirt. If you were worried about freezing weather, you'd plant them deeper since if the sprouts freeze they're history, but I have faith that we are more-or-less out of winter (famous last words) so I planed them pretty shallow.

Then I gently covered them up (with, you guessed it, the rake), and raked it all smooth (with the rake!). Now I can just sit back, have a nice beer, and wait until September.

Other signs of life in the garden include this lovely hairstyle of horseradish.

Some plucky French tarragon.

Rhubarb from outer space.

Turkestan Oregano.

And some creature that made a nest of grass under the thyme plant. (If it turns out to be rabbits, this may be the last garden post -- the last one about plants, anyway.)